Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Here today, gone tomorrow?
With so much current media discourse related to the ECEC sector and the provision of childcare services in Ireland, I cannot help but wonder if it will all be just a flash in the pan that receives media and societal focus for a few days, weeks or even months and then gets forgotten about again. The issues in relation to the ECEC are not new and have long been at the forefront of the minds of those of us working in the sector and can permeate our everyday practice and the effective performance of our roles. However, I am concerned that it will be too easy for those who don’t interact with the impact and fall out of the issues affecting the efficacy of the sector to forget about us and move on to the next topical current affairs issue that takes over the airwaves.
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When COVID-19 forced the mass closure of ECEC and childcare facilities in 2020, it seemed that finally, after so many years of being unrecognised as a vital public service and a profession that props up the economy by enabling parents to participate in employment, that the sector was being recognised for the important role that it plays in society. In fact, research from the Economic and Social Research Institute reports that due to the pressure on parents to work from home and care for children simultaneously during the height of the pandemic, families were experiencing conflict and tension due to the difficulty of juggling the responsibilities of both roles (ESRI, 2020). Due to the correlation between working from home and working longer hours (Russell et al, 2019) parents were also experiencing difficulty switching off “work mode” and transitioning into “family mode”, which also negatively impacted the family relationships due to stress and the compromises which parents needed to make to juggle both roles (ESRI, 2020). It seemed that society had finally realised the true reliance that families have upon quality ECEC and childcare to not only enable them to work, but to contribute to alleviating certain familial stressors and maintaining positive family relationships.
Boom to Bust!
I recall the Celtic Tiger boom years in Ireland when it was all 100% mortgages were being doled out like there was no tomorrow. Then came 2008 when we received a short sharp shock, we had borrowed too much from Europe and then, to top it all off, we had to bail out the banks. We swore that never again would house prices get so ridiculously high. We had absolutely learned our lesson. And yet, how quickly we forget. House prices once again seem astronomically high and young couples and families in the current economic climate may never be able to afford a house of their own. Not to mention the amount of money the Government had to borrow from Europe to absorb some of the economic impact of the pandemic.
So, what has this all got to do with ECEC? Well, I worry that the realisations of 2020 regarding the value of ECEC and childcare in Irish society, how much everyone depends on it, might well end up mostly forgotten to all but those of us who work within the sector. The 2022 budget has promised change, funding increases to support wages and retention within the sector. I’ll be honest though, I have concerns about how it will all pan out, will the process of applying to subsequent funding streams be as convoluted as usual where it can sometimes be practically impossible to figure out exactly what the requirements for funding are or just impossible to find adequate time to fill in the reams of paperwork required? I really hope that this will not be a forgotten lesson, that the ECEC and childcare sector in Ireland is truly on the cusp of positive change that will support the workforce, stem the flow of practitioners leaving the sector and put ECEC and childcare in Ireland on a trajectory towards long term sustainability……time will tell.
About the Author: Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.